Firefighters union calls for bulletproof vests

HOUSTON – Firefighters should have city-issued bulletproof vests to wear during active shooter situations, according to the president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Union.

Alvin White, who is near the end of his term as president of the union, told Channel 2 Investigates Thursday that firefighters would be safer if they had vests.

Firefighters were among first responders who arrived on scene Monday when an active shooter situation played out in Houston. No firefighters were hurt.

A fire engine was hit by bullets in May during another active shooter situation.

“As we make more and more of these shootings, we are the first ones on location. I know our brothers in blue do come in and do their job, but usually the firefighters are the first ones on scene. They are making these scenes without protection that they could use to protect themselves,” White said.

The City of San Antonio has decided to issue vests to some of its firefighters who respond to active shooter and other highly-dangerous calls.

The Houston Fire Department’s policy said firefighters must wait for police to render a scene safe but sometimes firefighters find themselves in danger right away.

In 2012, a Houston ambulance took bullets at a home near North Super and Canal in southeast Houston. Houston Police said a shooting victim was hit in the leg by his girlfriend’s son. When emergency crews arrived, the suspect opened fire again several times, investigators said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Interim Fire Chief Rodney West said they are looking at whether additional gear will make firefighters safer.

Both men told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jace Larson Thursday that they are hesitant.

“We don’t want to give our members a false sense of security,” West said.

Turner said the focus of any decision must be firefighters’ security.

“The concern is when you put on those vests whether fire fighters will feel they are more safe than they are and will go deeper into danger,” Turner said. “They are taking a look in it.”

Turner said budget concerns would not play a role in whether firefighters get bulletproof vests.

West said a few firefighters who work in SWAT situations do have vests and other protective gear, but it is not common for most firefighters.

White said he doesn’t feel every firefighter should have his or her own dedicated vest, but that vests could be kept on units and used when needed.

If you have a tip for investigative reporter Jace Larson, email or text him at jlarson@kprc.com or 832-493-3951.